Staff Picks Category: Short stories

Raffles: Further Adventures of the Amateur Cracksman by E. W. Hornung []

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Did you know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s brother-in-law E. W Hornung was also a successful author? Hornung’s hero, A. J. Raffles is a “debonair, witty and cricket-loving gentleman thief” too selfish to be a Robin Hood, but too noble to steal from those he feels can ill-afford it, and patriotic enough that he goes to war for his country and once, after making suitable precautions to avoid self-incrimination, he arranges for the spoils of a particularly splendid heist to be a gift to the queen.

Like those of Sherlock Holmes, the exploits of A. J. Raffles are told from the perspective of a devoted friend and accomplice. In place of Doctor Watson, Raffles has Harry Manders, more usually known, at least to his criminal friend, as Bunny. Bunny Manders is a struggling journalist and surprisingly innocent given his enthusiasm for his scofflaw friend. At the beginning of Raffles: Further Adventures of the Amateur Cracksman, Bunny has recently been released from jail, and Raffles is presumed dead. Of course, we soon learn that they both have plenty more adventures ahead of them.

Hornung dedicated his first set of Raffles stories to his brother-in-law, and Doyle was suitably impressed, writing that “there are few finer examples of short-story writing in our language than these.” He did not however, approve Hornung’s choice of subject, however: “You must not make the criminal a hero.” Readers, however did not seem to mind: Raffles was the second most popular fictional character in the early twentieth century, second only to Sherlock Holmes.

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This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz []

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The audiobook is read by the author, Junot Diaz, to wonderful effect. We follow the life and romantic misadventures of Yunior, from the time his family immigrated from the Dominican Republic to his life as a professor in Cambridge — although not in a straight chronology. Diaz’s language is in turns brash and lyrical, peppered with slang. Yunior is not always an easy guy to like, and that he becomes a sympathetic character at all is due to Diaz’s genius (as further evidenced by his being named a MacArthur Fellow in 2012). The version of the audiobook I listened to was further interspersed with latin music, helping to set the mood and carry me away.

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East, West by Salman Rushdie []

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I love short stories and I’ve made a resolution to read more of them this year. With this in mind, but as I haven’t yet read any new story collections this year, I’ve picked an old favorite for this post. East, West is a collection of stories by British Indian author Salman Rushdie. Rushdie’s writing here is witty and colorful, and these stories, are quick, enjoyable reads. Rushdie draws inspiration from a variety of sources, both classic (Shakespeare, the life of Muhammad) and modern (The Wizard of Oz, Rambo, Star Trek). The plots are not particularly memorable (I’ve read the volume several times but can never quite remember how the stories unfold), but the flavor of the stories, and the voice of the author will stick with you. (I’ve found that to be true of much of Rushdie’s writing—if you are going to enjoy Rushdie you probably won’t mind this in the least.) A good introduction to this important author.

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The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury []

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A science-fiction classic, The Martian Chronicles tells a story of the colonization of Mars through a series of short stories and vignettes. Bradbury imagines Mars as the home of an ancient and beautiful civilization, doomed to fall when it encounters the shortsighted and destructive people of Earth. Despite the gloomy prospects for all involved, Bradbury’s stories are full of humor, and make for a quick and very enjoyable read.

Interestingly, these stories have been the subject of several radio dramas and audio productions; I first encountered them listening to Relic Radio‘s science-fiction podcast, where they are still available to download, and here at the library you can find radio theater versions on audio tape (Old Time Radio: Science Fiction) as well as a long playing record of Leonard Nimoy reading two of the stories (The Martian Chronicles).

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The Djinn in the nightingale’s eye by A.S. Byatt []

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A collection of fairy tales for adults. The title novella is on a middle-aged Englishwoman attending a writers’ conference in Turkey. She picks up an antique bottle and as she is washing it a djinn appears, offering to grant her three wishes. She is aware of the untoward consequences of hasty wish-making so after careful consideration, she asks for a younger body, then requests he make love to her. Very fun!

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